Utopia and Built Environment

The word utopia is well known today the world over. It has been used in multiple ways and, in a way, it has become a word used in day to day language. However, there is also a particular strain of discussion from the 16th and 17th century debates, which has given rise to the popularity of the word. There is no intention whatsoever in this text, of course, to make a comprehensive review of this discussion, but we would like to point at three of four dimensions which we consider to be of key importance. Working on these dimensions will also help us to advance some steps in a general discussion on society and settlement, and about the way Utopian thinking may or may not play a role.

Built Environment and Society

The first point we would like to stress is related to a topic which has frequently been addressed indirectly in scholarly debates from the 19th and the 20th century, but which still remains poorly known and on which we still need more in-depth studies. On the one hand, the theme is concerned with the relationship between the society (social, economic and political) and on the other hand the built environment. It may seem strange to assert that this in an understudied field. There are, actually, many references to this relationship in the bibliography. In certain strands of classical sociology and anthropology, it has often been taken for granted that the relationship exists, but also that this relationship is fairly straightforward and easy to identify and understand.

We will only mention some very simple examples from anthropology to illustrate our argument. One case is a late work of Lewis Henry Morgan, the famous lawyer, entrepreneur and anthropologist in the United States working in the 1860s and 1870s. While he avoided the questions of built environment in his most famous work Ancient Society from 18771, he addressed the question explicitly in a later study from 18802, in which he tried to include archaeology as a tool for anthropology. Another case is the famous sociologists and anthropologists Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss (1903)3 working in France at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Morgan’s study addresses the questions of social and economic organisation. To simplify, one of his major arguments is that there existed a particular indigenous American social form, which dominated most ”Indian” societies. This social form was based on people living together in large buildings, which housed 20, 50 or even 100 people under one roof. The main case was the Iroquois, who Morgan studied through old written sources composed by Europeans and through his personal friendships with people what he called the Iroquois federation. The ”classic” Iroquois, according to Morgan, lived in longhouses, with a roof sustained by a set of wooden columns. Inside such a spatial frame, there were subdivisions housing a smaller number of people. These people were administered by what Morgan called a ”Matrona”, a woman who distributed food and co-ordinated the ”work of the house” for the individuals concerned. Interestingly, Morgan adds that this social form may have ”ruled” only inside the longhouse though he does not extend that argument. The social form of the Iroquois, which Morgan related to their matrilineal kinship system, Morgan termed ”Communism”. In order to avoid misunderstandings, we must immediately add that this word to Morgan must associate to the Paris commune of 1871 and related discussion, not to the 20th century ideas in communism. It seems that Morgan saw something positive and inspiring in this old social form, which he hoped would become somehow integrated into the new America of the 19th century.

Now, Morgan tries to argue that the Iroquois social form had been fairly common among the indigenous peoples in the Americas. He quotes several examples and even tries to use archaeological evidence to some extent. One of his examples is, at that time recent, discoveries of Maya ruins from the Yucatán peninsula. These were almost only known from Stephens travel report4, in which he talked about large monuments being in his words “remains of lost kingdoms”. Some of the buildings described were long and narrow made of stone, “palaces” in Stephen’s thinking. Stephen mentions that there are more “insignificant” ruins around the monuments, but this point is not considered of relevance to Morgan. Morgan questions the idea of old kingdoms, and understands the large, long and narrow buildings as longhouses, similar to those of the Iroquois.5

Today, with richer archaeological information, we can question Morgan’s interpretation. On the one hand, the “insignificant” material in part corresponds to humbler habitational buildings and, on the other hand, the excavation of the long and narrow buildings does not give evidence, which would be easy to accommodate to Morgan’s interpretation (though this should be looked more in detail). However, thinking only of the information available to Morgan, the “skeleton” of the buildings, the walls and the roofs, and the space they enclose, Morgan’s interpretation was not impossible. What can be easily understood is that a very crude knowledge of built environment does not offer a possibility to know the social form.

Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss went even further in their argument.6 Using ethnographic examples they discuss society as a kind of unified total representation and how the general outline of a Sioux campsite, according to them, reproduces this social form directly and replicates “the whole world”. Thus, to these authors, the social form is directly readable from the general character of the built environment. Claude Lévi-Strauss elaborated a similar argument, addressing indigenous Bororo sites in Mato Grosso, Brasil.7 Lévi-Strauss’ argument is, however, more intricate and involves two different structural forms, of which the easily readable one is a perfect symmetry, a kind of social ideology (social dualism), covering the actual social hierarchy. Thus, in Lévi-Strauss’ discussion there is a sort of complexity, which makes it difficult to read the social structure directly from a superficial reading of the built environment. There is actually an opening in Lévi-Strauss’ discussion, which allows us to look not only for “positive” culture, but also for unhomely space.8

However, the simpler approach by Durkheim and Mauss has become very popular and has influenced several scholars, with or without reference to their work. Built environment is taken to be a kind of “model” of the social form. Similar arguments abound in the bibliography and occasionally the idea of mirror is mentioned (however, not mentioning the inverted image of the mirror). To pick just one example, Rykwert addressed both the Sioux and the Bororo as examples in a general discussion on urban form.9 Furthermore, the Archaeologist Lewis Binford used the mirror metaphor in addressing the general relation between archaeological evidence and social form, generalising this kind of argument.10

Mirror and materiality

The idea of a simple mirror effect has been questioned repeatedly. A well-known example is Ian Hodder (1982), who attacked Binford’s argument of the mirror. Hodder’s argument centred on intentional, conscious human action, which according to him did not follow a general pattern.11 Material objects and environments could, thus, be used in various ways. Most certainly personal human action has a possibility of being different and Hodder had an important point. Hodder’s arguments evidently draw on sociologists like Giddens12 and Bourdieu13 even if there was no strict application. Hodder’s argument insisted heavily on individual difference.14 Even if this is highly relevant, still, the regularity of human social, economic and political practice is evident, and cases of social actions, which dramatically differ from the common ways, are not frequent and often occur in highly particular contexts.15

The concept of materiality, which became important in archaeology mainly from 2000 onwards, stressed the importance of the physical. Several different ways to work and interpret the concept of materiality were developed, and in certain strands notions of agency related to matter in general became key topics. Donna Haraway and Karen Barad16 insisted on encounter in general. Haraway mainly discussed human-animal relationships, while Barad tried to extend the discussion beyond that point. In recent studies, Hodder has stressed the importance of entanglement, how various “factors” or “actors” become related in complex webs.17 In such perspectives, the built environment and the physical landscape it is based on are crucial elements of the entangled context. The materiality concept helped archaeologists to be more aware of the potential and relevance of the physical world, which, of course, contains vital elements for any archaeology. However, we still find it important to stress the particularity of the social and the human social world, and still focus on this dimension in our analysis. In a sense, we find Otto Neurath’s classical ideas on the empirical and the social as an inspiring and open framework.18 In such an analysis, the particularity of the human social world may well be vital while acknowledging the importance of involving other elements in any study.

Going back to the question of built environment, the idea of a sort of “correspondence” between the skeleton of the built environment and the social world is still, despite its evident problems, a common notion. The program of functional architecture in Le Corbusier (1923) was, indeed, about how to change society through changing architecture. In this case, Le Corbusier tried to find the “true” way of living, the really human way, which had been hidden under the layers of complex “non-rational” social codes. In Le Corbusier, the social and architecture are immediately corresponding.19 The insistence in removing large areas of previous built environment is frequent in Le Corbusier’s work. The plan for a new centre of Paris (Plan Voisin 1925) was based on this idea according to which the old buildings must be removed to facilitate a new social world.20 The plan was never realised.

However, if we look closer at city transformations, we can easily see how older buildings in several cases attain new functions and new social content. The Old Town of Stockholm, with buildings going back at least to the 15th century, is an example (also here, Le Corbusier suggested demolishing certain parts). Around 1920, it was considered a “poor” area, almost like a slum. Through large-scale renovations, there has been gentrification, and today the area is considered luxurious. The “skeleton” of streets and walls remain largely the same, but many details have been added and much restructuring has taken place. Looking in detail, we may perhaps detect physical elements corresponding to the social change, but looking merely at the skeleton the built environment remains the same.

One example of avoiding details of the empirics is actually Lévi-Strauss’ Bororo studies. In his own field-report from the Bororo, he sketches the outline of a village.21 However, this village lacks the symmetry requested for his theoretical model, developed in later studies. Factors of the landscape, notably a new line of a river, seemed to have played a major role. Though these observations should have been of major importance, Lévi-Strauss refrains from mentioning them. His first-hand observations were thus of little consequence to him. Unlike Lévi-Strauss in this Bororo case, we think that a micro-approach and a refined analysis are necessary, if we search social elements in the physical built environment.22

The 16th century Utopia and the Ideal Town

The questions related to the social and built environment are immensely complex if we address ourselves to the 16th century. Certain scholars have studied the question superficially and have lost sight of important aspects. Looking closely we see two distinct traditions of addressing the Utopia and the Ideal built environment (the Ideal Town, notably). One tradition focuses on the social content, as More (c. 1516) in his Utopia23, while another mainly addresses the design of a new built environment with little attention to its social content. This distinction has not been discussed sufficiently.

The early modern utopias have been used as components in the 20th century arguments concerning the ideal place. The models of the ideal place and the concepts of archetypes or cosmologies have been projected backwards, towards the Early Modern. The method is based on the supposed possibility of locating the idea in the past and constructing a confirmation of something that is considered desirable in the present. The Renaissance and the Early Modern produced several models for the planned, ideal place. Utopia is one of them, Ideal City another and we could also mention the concepts of New Jerusalem.

The designed ideal city in the 15th century Italy differs from the Utopias in several important respects, since they mainly focused on form and architecture, rather than on social organisation. Alberti’s and Filarete’s ideal cities and Vitruvius’ architectural handbooks were now equipped with illustrations that underlined (or maybe constructed) these connections. Here, symmetric cities (often star-shaped with a distinct, symmetric centre) were propagated. New fortified cities, influenced by the ideal city were also founded in northern Italy, like Palmanova or Sabioneta. Utopia presents an innovative social organisation, but ideal cities are rather using innovative architecture to protect and strengthen the current social structures.24

In Sforzinda, which is Filaretes’ fictive ideal version of Milan, the city planning and architecture confirms social class by constructing three different kinds of houses for different categories of people. The same kinds of professions are housed in the same areas and the different professions are arranged according to a hierarchic system of high and low. Through the central brothels, women will be sexually exploited, and those who cannot find employment will be housed in the public prison where they will share the lives of the convicts. There is no representative system in Sforzinda, but an absolute prince governs the town.25 This ideal city does not aim at reforming the current society, but rather making its order more distinct and easier to govern. The symmetrical form of Sforzinda confirms social inequality and this is obviously also one of its purposes.

There is also a difference in how perspectives are used in More’s Utopia and in the ideal cities. More’s Utopia was constructed from multiple perspectives, to be perceived through the particularities. This aesthetic marked out both Utopia as a text and the description of Amaurote as a city. There is no central position in Utopia – neither in the text, nor in the city Amaurote – where the wholeness can be experienced, perceived, or dominated.26 In the ideal cities such central places are, however, of the highest importance. From these, the whole city can be seen, controlled and reached in the shortest possible time. From the central position, hierarchies are also constructed between the different positions in the town. Utopia is described according to the positions of the ordinary citizen while the ideal cities rather operate on the particular needs of the leadership.

Utopia as archetype, cosmology and ideal

Utopia has also been connected with the ideas of “archetypal urbanity”. To understand how such constructions are used in more extended arguments, we need a short summary of their background and content. An archetype is a simple concept, so simple that it can be found anywhere, ready to use by those who believe in it. In this way, by referring to archetypes, different arguments can be constructed based on a very limited number of components.27 For the Jungian, the archetype cities refer to fictional or pictorial representations. They are either square or circular and are supposed to represent the self.28

For Mircea Eliade archetype cities are geographical places, marked out by an absolute centre. They are part of a so-called cosmology, where each such place has a heavenly counterpart and through repetitive ritual activities this spiritual unity is preserved.29 A cosmology is logic that is supposed to predict the human behaviour in a certain place or in a certain culture. Research is here considered as decoding a place/culture until its logic/cosmology can be defined or described. This is close to the arguments of Joseph Rykwert, where the principle of urbanity can be reduced to the formation of a limited form or pattern. According to Rykwert, “all the great civilisations practice it (=rectilineal planning and orientation), all have mythical accounts of its origins, and rituals which guide the planner and the builder”.30 This simple structure is “the idea” of the town indicating that if it has planning and archetypal qualities it can be separated from the mere “organic growth”. Similar ideas have been formulated by Wolfgang Braunfels, who claimed that when Roman cities were founded with a crossroads in the middle, this element was considered a sacred symbol as people gradually became accustomed to the idea that urban order was also the world order reflecting a general cosmology. When a high medieval town was arranged in four quarters, this was consequently an expression of the “sacredness” of the place.31 This supposed symmetry (= crossroads) is, according to these authors, enough to mark out a place as “sacred” and reflecting a “world order”.

Some architectural historians have merged the ideas of archetypal cities with the ideal cities of the Italian renaissance. The purpose is to outline a general urban development that will confirm a contemporary concept of city planning. All planned or symmetrical places can be integrated as part of this historical development and it is enough if they are only mentioned, or represented in an abstract or symbolic form. In this history, social and symmetrical spatial planning is closely interconnected.  This concept of city planning is considered a benevolent factor in human society, but also constituting a potential threat of collective repression with socialist overtones.

Utopia becomes a frequent and important element in these arguments, even though More never gives any examples of geometrical symmetry, except the fact that the Utopian city of Amaurote is “almost square”. However, this has caused claims that Amaurote is consequently orthogonal and symmetrical and, thus, a new Utopia is constructed that is far from the descriptions found in More’s text. One particular detail in these descriptions is that a so-called grid system becomes intimately connected to Utopia. Several texts carry almost an obsession with simplified expressions of urban squareness, as if that was a leading principle in itself and an indirect promoter of easily expressed social qualities and effects. It is a fact that modern town planning contains such elements, but attempts to find a pre-modern or non-European origin to oversimplified urban squareness (the urban archetype) have generally proved to be in vain. Such places might be found in rough pictorial representations, but if the actual constructions are unearthed or measured, they often turn out to be of another kind. Such a squared layout is, however, often related to a colonial distribution of private lots with simple techniques for land-survey.32 In More’s Utopia, there was, according to the author, no private property and consequently no lots were distributed to individuals, but the farms and the gardens were used in common.

Essence and Utopia

Through the kinds of arguments outlined above, Utopia has come to play a crucial role when an idea of an essential, archetypal urbanity was constructed. Helen Rosenau writes that More’s concern is “social as well as formal” and emphasizes that Amaurote shows an “almost geometric shape”. Rosenau also states that “the identical rows of houses makes for regularity in Utopia”, but according to More the facades in Amaurote were constructed in different materials and the determining factor is not the identical city blocks, but the location of the gardens. Rosenau also criticises the original illustrations of Utopia for not understanding these things. According to Rosenau, it is “significant (that) the woodcut accompanying the first edition of 1516 remains in the medieval tradition so far as architecture is concerned…this illustrates how far More’s taste was not only in advance of his time but also of his illustrator and publisher.”33

However, More never mentions any orthogonality or even symmetry in Utopia and the original illustration in fact agrees with the content of the book. Amaurote is represented as a walled town with fortifications and towers. Occasional flat roofs can be perceived over the walls. Several smaller towns are marked out on the island, but no country estates. Behind Utopia is the mainland, with more towns, possibly Utopian colonies. What is being presented here is the successful urbanisation of Utopia, the strong defence and the (urban) expansion beyond its borders. That is not a representation in contrast to More’s text. The artist depicts what More already has described: a Utopia that is urban, military and colonial. Rosenau, however, only sees the urban factor and this is, in a way, far beyond More’s text. In our opinion, it is highly unlikely that More was dissatisfied with these illustrations of Utopia. Another fact confirms this: When Ambrosius Holbein is asked to illustrate the next edition of Utopia, he proceeds from the woodcut in the first edition. Even though Holbein mastered the art of the central perspective, he does not use it here. Instead, he produces a more eloquent version of the first picture, where the wholeness is perceived through the particularities, just like in the text Utopia.34

Hanno-Walter Kruft developed Rosenaus argument and explicitly claimed that More’s thoughts about architecture emanated from his political socialism. As a consequence of this, the citizens of Utopia were denied all privacy and they constantly moved back and forth between city and countryside and the streets of Amaurote were “symmetrically laid out”.35 Actually, none of this was ever said by Thomas More. Since this design was decided by the founder Utopus, the utopian architecture can also be seen as an “immediate expression of the ideal state”. The significance of the gardens is not mentioned in this connection. Kruft also states that the “repetition of a fixed pattern corresponds to the book’s conception of a socialist theory” and he presents the early illustrations of Utopia as “images of late Gothic cities which in no way correspond to what More’s talking about”.36

Thomas More’s Utopia. Image taken from page 284 of ’Cassell’s Library of English Literature. Selected, edited and arranged by H. M. … Illustrated’

Gradually, Krufts arguments turn into an “indisputable” statement. Later when he presents Robert Owens plans for industrial communities, he emphasizes that the buildings were “arranged in a rectangular grid, and their design ultimately went back to Thomas More”.37 Such statements are then repeated by different authors as an established fact. For example, Nicole Pohl describes the city plan of the Utopian town as “based on a grid system (that) allows the supervision of human activities within the city”38 and Ruth Eaton claims that for More “checkerboard land division represented equality”39.

Utopia has also been read according to a dual idealism and included in opposites like “Utopia and Dystopia” or “Utopia and reality”. This has little to do with an early modern Utopia, but is rather typical for the 20th century thinking in general. Here Thomas More either becomes a spiritual writer, where the communism is a survival of the medieval convent, or a radical predecessor to the 19th century socialism. The solution to the problem is here to contextualize More and present him as an essentially conservative author, with a focus on repression, religion and mercy. This conservatism, according to these authors, makes him blind to the progression of market economy and to the need for vindication of private property. This raises another problem – in such contexts, not only the socialist perspective will disappear, but also several early modern. The fact is that not only the church but also early modern puritans, merchants, revolutionaries and princes explicitly questioned an unlimited private ownership of land and this is not welcomed in this context. Even though the authors want to contextualize More they presume an eternal conservatism, radicalism and – not at least – economy that obeys the same laws during the 16th century as those propagated by the 20th century liberals (for example Hexter and Surtz, for examples of More as a socialist predecessor cf. Kautsky).

Utopia and the Pueblo Hospitals of Santa Fe

We have, so far, claimed that Utopia was about social organisation as opposed to the ideal city focused on architectural symmetry. These claims have only been based on the early modern utopian texts, but how were these texts perceived in practice? Are there any examples of city planners or organisers of societies directly inspired by Utopia?

We can present one example, Vasco de Quiroga, and his so called Pueblo Hospitals in Mexico 1531-1565. In 1947, the Mexican law historian Silvio Zavala (an expert on forced labour), by coincidence discovered how Quiroga had been directly influenced by Thomas More’s Utopia.40 In Quirogas opinion, Utopia was a perfect handbook when new cities were founded in the Spanish colonies. This is actually not strange, particularly because Utopia itself is about a colonial project.

In general, there is little trace of influence from Mores Utopia in the American colonies of the 16th and the 17th centuries. The towns first established by the Spanish Crown in the New World were more like campsites than anything else. Established in hastily chosen areas, most of these settlements did not survive for long. Only at a later stage, regularly planned town centres were established.41 During 1530-1540 and 1550-1560 the town founding reached its peak and more than one hundred cities were established before the 1550s.42

The general model of the Spanish American colonial city quickly reached a format, a physical form, which in the majority of cases was repeated with minor variations long after the colonial period, with no major modifications.43 It was the Spanish-American grid plan pattern, which due to the large numbers represented a new kind of town thinking. The inspirations for this must have been varied. There was certainly an influence from antique Roman towns and from certain elements of town planning in the eastern Mediterranean area. Actually, in the 13th century already the large villages in Spain and France applied the grid form, which however, was not a dominant form in the towns of the Iberian peninsula in the 16th century. There was, probably, also an indirect inspiration from the staked out plots in Tenochtitlán.44 This said, it should be stressed that the repetition of a simple grid plan is not the same as a complex ideal town outline, and even less related to Utopian thinking. It should also be mentioned that there are no indications that Quiroga ever was occupied in street layout or any kind of geometric patterns in his establishments. His main focus was, just like in Utopia, the social organisation.

However, there are certain examples of influence from Utopian thinking. One such case, little studied but which merits more study, is the larger Jesuit reductions in the regions of Rio de La Plata in the 16th and 17th century.45 Another very early and highly interesting case is that of Quiroga. He came to Mexico 1531 as a member of the second Audienca. This was a council of five lawyers, sent by the Spanish crown, to stabilise the situation in the recently conquered colonies and to function as their highest judicial body.46 In Mexico, Quiroga was offered the opportunity to read Utopia. The book that Quiroga read still exists with underlines and marginal notes from the 16th century. These comments mainly concern concrete, organisational proposals, for example that every Utopian town should have several well-equipped hospitals outside the city walls and that these should be provided with the best food. It is impossible to know if Quiroga himself made these comments, but they indicate how Utopia could have been read in the 1520s-1530s.

As a member of the second Audiencia, Quiroga formally reported to the Spanish crown about the situation in Mexico and suggested how the colonisation should be organised. Besides this, he founded his own pueblo hospitals. In both matters he was inspired by Utopia. The constant theme is to bring people together and urbanise them for their own best and for their Christianisation. This eagerness to turn the natives into town people was not unique for Quiroga, but significant for the whole Spanish colonisation. During this time, Spain was probably the most urbanised country in Europe. Not in first hand because there were some relatively large cities in southern Spain, but because the rural areas were organised in an urbanised pattern. The Spanish farmers were also burghers in small rural towns, and this was the pattern the Spanish bureaucracy was working with. Spain had no organisational model for handling rural people without town connection. This could explain why Spain, in contrast to England and France, was so eager in establishing towns and putting the native people in these units. It also reveals their incapacity to recognise societies organised differently.47 One result of this was also that epidemic diseases more easily infected the natives.48 The American natives were, according to Quiroga, naturally good people, but they lived “scattered through the fields like animals without good policía”. Here Utopia and its urbanised society offered a model through which the Indians could be introduced to Spanish policía. In this new society, Spanish and American cultures would merge into a new society and better sorts of Christians expanding the Spanish empire.49

Probably in 1532, Quiroga sent a letter to the Spanish Crown, where he presented the outlines for a republic with the potential to include all inhabitants in the New World. The plan was taken from Mores Utopia, “as though from a pattern”. Quiroga considered that More had been inspired by the Holy Ghost when he wrote Utopia, since he could both describe the needs of the Indians and their solution without ever having seen these people. Quiroga suggested a political structure similar to Utopia, but with some organisational additions, that would integrate it with the already existing Spanish administration. The base for this society should be “familiae of one lineage”, consisting of 10-16 married couples and where all people should be brought together in cities. This would also radically reduce the need of monks, since ”two friars could work more effectively with such a concentrated group than could a hundred among the scattered huts”.50 The same year, Quiroga purchases land outside Tenochtitlán “in order to enlarge the pueblo and hospital of Santa Fe and for his support and lodging of poor people” and next year he erected a building called a paterfamilia.51 Between 1554 and 1565, there are ordinances preserved for the Pueblo Hospitals. In these, Quiroga often simply copied the content of Utopia. The full focus is to organise the practical life of the inhabitants.

Frontpage of a small publication by Vasco de Quiroga concerning the rules and regulations of his Utopian villages. Printed book Ordenanzas De Los Hospitales, Testamento, Informacion En Derecho, Juicio De Residencia, etc. Nueva Espana from 1550 (?).

It has been proposed that Quirogas Pueblo Hospitals were reduced projects in relation to what he had wished to do.52 The Hospitals were, however, initiated simultaneously as he wrote his Utopian proposals. The idea that the natives should be gathered in population centres is there from the beginning; likely before he even had read Utopia. It is thus not relevant to talk about a visionary Utopia and a limited reality. Quiroga also considered his own projects to be highly successful. For Quiroga, Utopia was a text about direct social organisation, inspiring to social planning of densely populated areas.

Conclusions and summary

We have insisted that the relation between built environment and social and economic forms in no way can be described as simple or straightforward. This is not to say that there are no relations, but rather that these relations must be studied in their contexts and taking details into consideration besides general outlines. This is a general question of great importance, but it also relates to the 16th and 17th century debates. There is, in these centuries, no strictly elaborated idea linking built environment to the socio-economic situation. Rather, the idea of the beauty of the Ideal town is generally separated from the Utopian social content. While the Ideal town may be said to contain the ideas of “order”, which is of course an important point, it does not address society at large and does not present a social program.

The grid pattern of the Spanish colonial towns is an interesting phenomenon, in particular due to their number. However, these towns hardly fit the Ideal town model and still less correspond to Utopian projects.

It is, however, interesting to note that probably the first attempt at applying Utopian ideas more directly is related to the indigenous population of the Americas, in the project of Quiroga. The Jesuit reductions, notably in the Rio de La Plata region is another interesting case. These large estates with highly developed schemes to train indigenous populations as artisans exhibit elaborate architecture and certainly merits further study from the point of view discussed here.

Per Cornell is Professor in Archaeology at the Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Cornell has worked on several fields including Early Modern Towns in the Nordic area, Latin American Archaeology, Bronze Age Rock Art in Scandinavia. Currently, he is active in the AACCP network stimulating dialogue between archaeologists, historians and architects.

MA Anna Nilsson has a degree in Religious Studies at University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Currenty, she works at School of Global Studies at the same University. She has been working with urban aspects of the early modern Utopian genre.


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  1. Morgan 1877. []
  2. Morgan 1880. []
  3. Durkheim & Mauss 1903. []
  4. Stephens 1843. []
  5. Morgan 1880. []
  6. Durkheim & Mauss 1903. []
  7. Lévi-Strauss 1956; 1958. []
  8. Cornell 2007; Cornell et al. 2007 / 2008. []
  9. Rykwert 1976, 169-172. []
  10. Binford 1983. []
  11. Hodder 1982. []
  12. Giddens 1984. []
  13. Bourdieu 1977; 1980. []
  14. Hodder 1982. []
  15. See Cornell 2015 for an example. []
  16. E.g. Haraway 2008; Barad 2007. []
  17. E.g. Hodder 2006. []
  18. Neurath 1945. []
  19. Le Corbusier-Saugnier 1923. []
  20. Le Corbusier & Jeanneret 1937, 109-117. []
  21. Lévi-Strauss 1936. []
  22. Cornell & Fahlander 2002; Cornell 2007; 2016. []
  23. More 1975. []
  24. Eliav-Feldon 1982. []
  25. Günther 1988. []
  26. Ginzburg 2000, Nilsson 2017. []
  27. For example, the western culture can be presented as essential and eternal, in combination with arguments that contemporary society has lost these original roots. Archetypes are thus easy to use, when a reactionary argument is constructed. One example is the so-called “three-function-doctrine” in the Indo-European constructions. This was formulated by researchers who were politically engaged against the French Republic that had abolished l’ancien régime where people were politically differentiated in nobility, priests and the rest. Through the Republic and the Citizenship, France had betrayed the Indo-European roots and destiny. The base for this argument is a fact that can be found in any society that it contains functions of nurture, violence and culture. []
  28. Franz 1964. []
  29. Eliade 1971. []
  30. Rykwert 1976, 26. []
  31. Braunfels 1976. Cf. Symes 2010 for a critical discussion on medieval townscape. []
  32. Scott 1998.  []
  33. Rosenau 1959. []
  34. Nilsson 2017. []
  35. Kruft 1985. []
  36. Since Amaurote is “almost square”, Kruft also associates towards Dürer’s representations of square fortifications. Possibly Dürer had seen a representation of Tenochtitlan through a now lost drawing by a Spaniard and Vespuccis’, and therefore the name appears in Utopia. Consequently, Kruft senses an “influence from pre-Columbian town plans of Central America in Utopia”. But More never describes Amaurote as orthogonal. Utopia was first published 1516, Cortés arrived at Tenochtitlan 1519 and Dürer published his plans of fortifications, which were possibly inspired by the pictures of Tenochtitlan, in 1527. The city of Tenochtitlan had a certain tendency to orthogonality, albeit not at all perfect. Drawings by persons who actually saw this place do not depict such a consequent layout, at least not when the ambition is to represent the whole city. The general pattern outside the ceremonial centre and the gigantic main square seem to have consisted of rectangular plots, or to have at least a tendency towards the rectangular. These were probably cultivated plots, but also in many cases they were used for residential buildings. The surface with staked out relatively regular plots in Tenochtitlán was relatively large, perhaps larger than in European towns of the same time. Kruft 1985, 257-258; c.f. Gonzales Aragon 1993. []
  37. Kruft 1985, 373. []
  38. Pohl 1976, 4. []
  39. Eaton 2000, 130. []
  40. Zavala 1953; cf. Florescano 1963. []
  41. Cf. Watters 2001. []
  42. Hardoy 1978; Socolow & Johnson 1981. []
  43. Hardoy & Aranovich 1978. []
  44. González Aragon 1993, cf. note 2 above. []
  45. Mörner 1953. []
  46. Zavala, 1977, 302-315.  []
  47. Warren 1963. []
  48. Verastique 2000, XIV. []
  49. Warren 1963. []
  50. Warren 1963, 34f, 40. []
  51. Warren 1963, 29f. []
  52. Zavala 1953, 1977; McAndrew 1965. []


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